New Transatlantic Partnership Brings Musical Theatre Premieres to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

New Transatlantic Partnership Brings Musical Theatre Premieres to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Two new musicals that explore home and heritage, identity and adventure will premiere at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August - the result of a new transatlantic collaboration between the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) at Northwestern University.

The thematically-linked productions, Atlantic: A Scottish Story and Atlantic: America and the Great War, will be staged from August 3 to 27 in the Rainy Hall at Edinburgh's Assembly Hall. The productions will be performed in repertory by students from the Royal Conservatoire and Northwestern University.

With rich storytelling and a soaring soundscape of filmic folk music, part one of the collaboration, Atlantic: A Scottish Story, is written by Royal Conservatoire of Scotland alumni Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie of music theatre company Noisemaker.

Set in the early 1800s on a Scottish island, a young couple stand at the shore and long to discover what's beyond. When the boy leaves for a new life in America, the girl must find a way to live. A Scottish Story looks at the ties we have to home and, in many cases, how difficult it can be to escape them.

"Can you be content not knowing what the rest of the world has to offer? These questions of isolation and identity were fundamental in discovering the world of Atlantic for us," said Claire McKenzie.

Scott Gilmour added: "We're returning to the roots of classic musical storytelling in A Scottish Story, combining Scottish folk music and myth to create a piece that feels of the time but also relevant to our lives today."

America and the Great War is an ensemble-driven adventure with a rousing American folk score that explores the timely uncertainty of what it means to be American. It's written by Northwestern University alumni Christopher Anselmo, Ryan Bernsten and Desiree Staples and directed by David H. Bell, the Donald G. Robertson Director in Music Theatre and AMTP Artistic Director at Northwestern.

On the eve of World War I, two African-American sisters uncover their complicated European ancestry. When one disappears while tracing their lineage overseas, the other must leave home for the first time to find her.

The two institutions launched the partnership in the autumn of 2016 and the productions were developed over months of transatlantic communications between the writers who were keen to find a story with universal themes. One idea they kept returning to was the question 'is it a curse to stay, or a curse to leave your homeland?'. In January this year, the Royal Conservatoire hosted a developmental workshop in Glasgow and a second workshop took place in May at Northwestern University.

The AMTP writing team wanted to capture the aspirations of not just their show's main characters but of the nation as a whole. America and the Great War is about home, heritage, adventure and the relationships made along the way - tied in with the tumultuous political and social times of 1917.

"As a playwright, most of the plays I have produced have been in the genre of contemporary political satire and drama, so a historical setting presented a challenge upon first impression - but ultimately it was surprising how cyclical history can be," said Ryan Bernsten.

"The development of the piece began while I was working as a staffer on the Hillary Clinton campaign, so it really became important in the aftermath that this musical answered to what America's legacy is and how complicated it can be at times."

Desiree Staples added: "I've wanted to explore how to tell a family story, a love story and a story about home in a way we haven't seen before. I think our characters are complex, determined and will very much resonate with young people right now who want to be in control of their destiny and change the world for the better."

Christopher Anselmo's style of music, both as a musical theatre composer and as a singer-songwriter, leans heavily towards folk and Americana. He said: "I tend to compose almost exclusively on the guitar and the texture that comes from that method has opened up an interesting soundscape for the piece. It's something that's rooted in a Scottish folk tradition but distinctly American."

Director David H. Bell said: "The creation of music theatre has, like everything else in the 21st century, become a global opportunity. This shared project has given our students an exciting opportunity to learn from each other and explore new methods of collaboration and creating music theatre stories."

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland will take three musical theatre productions to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in what is a milestone year - Scotland's national conservatoire is celebrating its 170th anniversary in 2017 while the Fringe turns 70. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is ranked in the world top three for performing arts education (QS World Rankings 2017) and is ranked number one in Scotland for graduate employability (HESA) endorsing its status as a national and international centre of excellence for the performing arts.

As well as the two Atlantic pieces, Musical Theatre Masters students from the Royal Conservatoire will present Into the Woods at the Assembly Hall. Students from across the globe come to study on the 12-month MA Musical Theatre programme which culminates in a fully-staged run at the Fringe, which attracts millions of international visitors to the capital every year.

Hugh Hodgart, Director of Drama, Dance, Production and Film at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said: "Creating meaningful professional opportunities is a defining aspect of life at Scotland's national conservatoire. Performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe - the largest arts festival in the world - is a once-in-a-lifetime student experience."

Professor Andrew Panton, Artistic Director of Musical Theatre at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, said: "The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for more than a decade and it offers a rich learning experience for our students, where they get to share their passion on a global platform."

Information and tickets for the Atlantic productions, as well as Into the Woods and other Royal Conservatoire of Scotland events at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, are available from https://rcsedfest.co.uk


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